Manda Welcomes Us

Deborah Asiimwe is a Ugandan playwright and Specialist for Sundance Institute East Africa. Below she shares her experience at the ongoing Sundance Institute Theatre Lab on Manda off the coast of Kenya.

Here, the stars shine brightest and they seem so many—how does this sky hold all of them? We arrive as the sun is about to “return to his mother.” The breeze is gentle on our faces, the tide goes high and higher, crystal, clear blue, a carpet of glass rolling this way and that way, and the dhows are dancing to its rhythm. Here we are.

This is our first day. Some of us are tired, some of us have been awake for almost 18 hours: moving from one country to another and to another. Others had their flights diverted to another airport due to a power cut in Nairobi and had to sit on the plane for hours before leaving for their final destination. It has been a long day, but the excitement, the happiness, the laughter, the energy I feel in this place is palpable. Two dhows carrying people from eight countries and three continents dock at Diamond Beach Village, while another dhow carrying countless bags and suitcases gently floats on the high tide that is greeting us this fine evening. As we dock, the ocean separates itself. But this is no Red Sea, and eight countries and three continents is not a section of the United Nations. This is Manda.

Sundance Institute East Africa Specialist Deborah Asiimwe. Photo by Philippa Ndisi-Hermann.

Manda welcomes us. We step out of our dhows and the ocean’s salty water cleanses our tired feet. Manda greets us and we greet her back. Introductions and greetings ensue: ‘My name is...,’ ‘I am from...,’and it ends with, ‘I am excited to be here.’ But what I feel is unexplainable. I want to reach deep down and touch this feeling, maybe get it out, see its shape, its color, smell it, maybe...just maybe, I will be able to find words to explain it. 

A blessed region: beautiful, intelligent, generous, creative, talented individuals, and how can one describe an opportunity to spend two weeks with them? The Creative Advisors and directors are a fountain of wisdom, and I am here to stand beneath it and get myself soaked. 

Rachael, the owner of Diamond Beach Village, tells us that there has been a terrible drought, “but we had rain two days ago.” A welcoming sign—I think. 

After dinner, as I am taking my shower, my brain wonders. It goes here and goes there. I wonder, did Robert Redford ever imagine that at one point, Sundance would be in East Africa? Engage with East African artists? Did he make a wish as he was shooting Out of Africa? I wonder. What did he dream about when he founded Sundance Institute? Did he know the impact it would make years down the road? The people it would reach? I wonder. In my mother’s language, they have a saying “Hafunda Emitima,” which may mean, “If there is enough room in our hearts, there will be enough room for everyone in the world.” I lie in bed and wonder. 

Manda, thank you for having us again.

Here is to our second Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in East Africa!

Lead photo: